Merrie Monarch gives viewers ‘chicken skin’

Halau o Ka Ua Kani Lehua from Hilo came in second overall and won the wahine overall title with 1202 points, as well as the wahine kahiko and wahine ‘auana titles.

Waihilo Chartrand

Halau o Ka Ua Kani Lehua from Hilo came in second overall and won the wahine overall title with 1202 points, as well as the wahine kahiko and wahine ‘auana titles.

By Waihilo Chartrand, Staff Writer

HILO, Hawaii — The most famous hula competition known as the Merrie Monarch Festival took place last week in Hilo, Hawaiʻi, at the Edith Kanakaʻole Multi-Purpose Stadium. This event brings people from all over the world to rainy Hilo town.

The festival first started in 1963. It began on the first Wednesday after Easter for four day, starting with the coronation pageant, barbershop quartet contest, beard contest, street dancing, Hawaiʻi calls and entertainment at the George Shoppe. In November 1968, the festival shifted to cultural hula dances as Dottie Thompson stepped up and became the chairperson. After her passing in 2010, her daughter Luana Kawelu took over and currently runs the festival.

“It’s a week where we honor our Hawaiian heritage of hula, music, crafts, and food,” said Kawena Kawelu, the granddaughter of Luana Kawelu. “It’s our kuleana (responsibility) to carry on the traditions of our kūpuna (elders).”

Every year the Merrie Monarch Festival begins after Easter Sunday for four days. Sunday starts with the hoʻolaulea (hula, chants, food), then there are hoike (variety of dances) night on Wednesday, Miss Aloha Hula (female dancer from each hālau) on Thursday, group kahiko (ancient-style) on Friday. The festival ends with group ‘auana  (modern-style) and the awards on Saturday. Each hālau is judged by points.

Twenty-nine to thirty hālau perform each year, preparing for months to dance a total of 7 minutes. Each hālau needs to be from Hawaiʻi or the U.S., with only one or two international performers allowed on stage with each group. This event brings in about 2,500 ticket requests in one day.

This year was the 53rd annual Merrie Monarch Festival, and there were 29 hālau that performed: 17 females and 12 males. A brand new group of judges were brought on this year for the competition.

Wednesday night is usually when the line starts forming from early morning and ends up being more than a mile long, because it is known as the free night. There are usually a variety of cultures that perform. This year there was a group from Taiwan, Maoris from New Zealand, the Big Island’s Hālau O Kekuhi,Nonosina Polynesia (a Tahitian group from California) and others.

Friday night’s performances are known as kahiko where the hālau will perform ancient-style dances. If you’re watching in person or from home, the male performance will have you drooling  and the same goes for females. The powerful chants and firm motions done by the individuals will have you in awe.

“The feeling of being able to experience kahiko was something I’ve never felt before. I could feel the energy of all of the dancers and the connection they had to their outfits and songs,” said Chaminade junior Kapiʻi DeMello, an Oahu native who attended Merrie Monarch this year. “I felt like I was experiencing the story they were dancing about, and I was consumed by the overpowering energy that filled the stadium.”

Saturday night was the ‘auana  performance where the groups performed modern-style dances and the awards are presented at the end. The stadium was full of people, cheering, clapping, and smiles from every angle. The ‘auana dances were graceful, and the dancers had smiles on their faces throughout the whole dance.

“The atmosphere in the stadium felt very exciting and alive,” said DeMello. “I remember walking in and feeling the energy of all of the people there, and it’s so contagious that almost every song or powerful lyric or dance gave me chicken skin.”

2016 Merrie Monarch Festival winners:

Miss Aloha Hula 2016-  Kayli Kaʻiulani Carr

Hālau Hi‘iakaināmakalehua

Nā Kumu Hula: Robert Ke‘ano Ka‘upu IV & Lono Padilla

Kahiko (female)

Hālau O Ka Ua Kanilehua: Ka Hana Mahikō

Kumu Hula: Johnny Lum Ho

Kahiko (Male)

Hālau Hula ʻO Kahikilaulani:

Kumu Hula: Nāhōkūokalani Gaspang

‘Auana (female)

Hālau O Ka Ua Kanilehua

Kumu Hula: Johnny Lum Ho

‘Auana (Male)

Hālau Nā Mamo O Pu‘uanahulu

Nā Kumu Hula: William Kahakuleilehua Haunuʻu “Sonny” Ching & Lōpaka Igarta-De Vera